The Engine Heart

The Engine Heart: Why heart attacks happen

and Cardiology, Coronary Disease, Medicine

In the United States, somebody suffers a heart attack every 34 seconds. Understanding how this happens often involves interpreting complicated medical descriptions. Instead, our professor helps the viewer to understand more about heart attacks by using a simple analogy. This lesson also reviews the symptoms that can occur in those people suffering a heart attack,and the importance of immediately seeking medical attention should these symptoms arise.

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Your heart is the engine of your body. It keeps you alive by pushing blood where it’s needed. Like other engines, the heart has a line that feeds it the fuel it needs. Heart attacks happen when this fuel line gets damaged. Imagine that you are running down the street and you trip, fall, and badly scrape your knee. The knee will become painful, swollen, red, and hot. This is called “inflammation,” and it is your body’s way of repairing itself after it’s been hurt. If you care for it, it will quickly stop bleeding and the pain will soon fade away. After a while, it crusts over, and the swelling goes down.

Imagine you fall and scrape your knee, then imagine you do the same thing every single day of your life.  This is a good way of understanding how smoking and eating poorly lead to heart attacks.
Inflammation is the process that leads to heart attacks: a small amount of damage occurs over time, similar to scraping your knee very single day.

Soon, the scab falls off, the skin looks pink, but this also gets better, and then it looks like nothing ever happened. The healing was successful. Now imagine the same example with scraping your knee, but this time, right after the crust forms and things are better, you fall and scrape it again. This time it bleeds more, and the pain is worse. The next day, you scrape it again, and then you continue to scrape it every day for many years. With time, a bulge of crust and blood would form as the knee tried to heal itself at the same time it continued to get hurt.

Cigarettes and eating poorly cause heart attacks, because they scrape the inside of your heart’s fuel line. After years of scraping, blockages form inside of it. The heart cannot work without fuel, so it keeps fixing the fuel line, while you keep scraping it. Over time, these blockages grow and eventually block the line. This can result in chest pain that happens when you exercise or walk. Your chest hurts because exercises make your heart work more, but its line is blocked, and it cannot get the fuel it needs.

A heart attack happens when your heart's fuel line gets blocked
Heart attack symptoms: include pressure in the chest, burning sensation in the chest that radiates to the left shoulder, left arm and jaw. For some women a heart attack can feel like shortness of breath they are not used to.

If these blockages fall apart and clog the line completely, that’s when a heart attack happens. Heart attacks feel like pressure or burning in the center of the chest. This feeling can be mild or very strong. Together with the pain in the chest, some people can feel achy shoulders or arms, and it can even go up your neck and jaw. For some women, heart troubles can feel like they are very out of breath, even without any chest pain. If you ever feel anything like that, do not take any chances and go to the hospital because heart attacks are very common.

When you are trying to lower your chances of having a heart attack, there are medications available that can help. But no matter what you do, taking away the things that hurt your heart is the most important step.

About the Authors
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Jose Taveras M.D.

Dr. Taveras is a non-invasive cardiologist in the Montefiore-Einstein Center for Heart and Vascular Care in Bronx, New York. He trained in both internal medicine and pediatrics and is currently an assistant professor of medicine at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. He is the co-creator of Doctablet.

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Mark Greenberg M.D.

Dr. Greenberg is the associate chief of cardiology and medical director of interventional cardiology at Montefiore Medical Center. He is a professor of clinical medicine at Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

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Last Modified: Jun 17, 2017 @ 2:33 pm

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Summary
The Engine Heart
Article Name
The Engine Heart
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Heart attacks are very common and symptoms include chest pain and shortness of breath. This video explains why heart attacks happen in simple terms.
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Doctablet®
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